Family court

Specially trained magistrates sit as Tier 1 judges in the Family Court, dealing with public and private law cases

What cases are dealt with by Tier 1 judges in the Family Court?

  • Parental disputes over arrangements for children (where they live, who they spend time with etc)
  • Local authority intervention to protect children
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Placement for Adoption


What is decided by Tier 1 judges in the Family Court?

Public law cases are normally brought by local authorities and can include:

  • Arrangements for a child to be put up for adoption
  • Care orders, giving parental responsibility for the child to the local authority
  • Supervision orders, placing the child under the supervision of their local authority
  • Emergency protection orders, to ensure the immediate safety of a child by taking them to a place of safety, or by preventing their removal from a place of safety


Private law cases are brought by private individuals and can include:

  • Orders concerning where a child lives, parental contact and responsibility
  • Prohibited Steps Orders (eg preventing a child being moved to another country)
  • Special guardianship orders, which give a special guardian primary parental responsibility, with birth parents retaining limited parental responsibility in respect to certain issues
  • Orders to prevent domestic abuse, including ‘non-molestation orders’ and ‘occupation orders’


If there is a disagreement about an important fact the court may hold a fact-finding hearing to decide which account is more likely than not to be true. It will consider the evidence and decide on what is called the ‘balance of probabilities’ or ‘civil standard of proof’.

Who sits in the family court?

The Single Family Court (formed in 2014) comprises all tiers of the Judiciary. Tiers 1-3 sit locally and the most senior in the High Court. Cases are assigned based on their type and complexity, but can be easily moved between tiers if appropriate.

How are family court proceedings different from criminal proceedings?

  • The paramount concern is not guilt/innocence but the welfare of the children involved
  • The Family Court is usually less formal: there are no wigs or robes, witnesses sit, parties may be encouraged to discuss aspects of the case, parties are often unrepresented
  • Most evidence is in the form of written reports and statements
  • Hearings are confidential and only those involved can attend: there is no publc gallery
  • Members of the press may attend most hearings but reporting restrictions can be imposed to protect the welfare of those involved in the case eg by offering anonymity


The MA has its own dedicated Family Court Committee with members who are experienced specialists in the area.

If you are attending family court, please visit our list of useful resources where you will find more information.